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The Power Of A Single Task

The Power Of A Single Task

Are your daily routines losing meaning? Leo Babauta covers the latest tips on how to prioritize everyday tasks. Everything on your to-do list requires full concentration in order to ensure you don’t have to do them again. This blog post highlights the power behind performing one task at a time.

In the neverending rush of our day, what does one little task matter?

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It is everything.

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We speed through each task as if it’s nothing, looking already to the next task, until we collapse at the end of the day, exhausted. Having spent a day cranking through nothings.

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That’s one approach, and I’ve done it many times. But here’s another: make each task its own universe, its own specialness. Then every moment of your day is ridiculously important and wonderful and powerful.

Here’s a process for one single task, whatever you have in front of you right now:

  1. Pause and consider. Why are you doing the task? Because it’s on your list, because someone sent it to you? Or because it will make a difference in the world, help make someone’s life better? Is it a compassionate act? Is it part of a project that matters? Know why you’re doing something, and then imbue the task with that intention.
  2. Notice your fear. Sometimes, we resist a task, procrastinate on it. I mean, not you, of course. Most other people procrastinate. This procrastination is rooted in fear, and so the trick is to see the fear, to feel it in your body, to accept it as part of you and not “wrong”. Then to give it compassion, and act anyway, in the moment. Don’t let your mind run away from the task.
  3. Make the task your universe. Have you ever been reading an article (like this one) and had the urge to switch to something else? This urge pushes itself on us, all day, because of the nagging feeling that there’ssomething else we should be doing, something else more important, more fun, that we might be missing out on. Instead, forget about those something elses. Make this one task your everything, and give it the space to fill up your entire mind. Put yourself fully in this one space, and pretend there’s nothing else.
  4. Stay with the task. Even with this task becoming your universe, there will be the urge to run away. This is fear again. Don’t let it rule you. Stick with the task, even just for a couple more minutes. Be curious about it: notice its qualities, wonder how it will go if you stay with it, don’t think you know everything about it. Pay attention, and see what it’s like.
  5. Bow when you’re done. Don’t rush off to the next task, but instead pause. Create a tiny bit of space before you move on to the next thing. Wash your bowl. Check the task off your list. Breathe, and see how your body is feeling. Now consider what task you should do next, not just because it’s in your inbox or task list, but because it matters.

The Power Of A Single Task | Leo Babauta

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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